Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Station identification

(Just by way of reminding you that this is a music blog too...)

For a week or so, I've been reviewing a few of the billions and billions of versions of "Mbube" (aka "Wimoweh," aka "The Lion Sleeps Tonight") that are conveniently cataloged on YouTube. I'm going to be working with a children's choir in the fall (more on this later), and I'm trying to contextualize this old chestnut for the kids -- and if you don't know, the context is remarkably depressing -- while simultaneously working up my own arrangement (I know, I know).

There's a great moment in Hannah and Her Sisters, where Max von Sydow's character says "If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up." Somehow I think Solomon Linda (the guy who created "Mbube" in the first place, but who nevertheless died in poverty) would have the same reaction to some of the better-known covers of his baby -- especially when he learned the amount of money that could be made with them. (The Weavers, the Kingston Trio, and the Tokens all had hits with variations of the tune before Linda died in 1962, but I suspect that the real exploitation came with Disney's insipid Lion King movie many years later.)

Of course, no one has ever accused me of being a purist, and I do think there's something interesting about the way this song persists. A few of the renditions I discovered even border on the charming (or at least comical, which can arguably be the same thing).

This one, for instance, may be the very definition of incongruity:

Hmmm. I think I want to hire these stern dudes with the funny robes and hats to sit and stare at IJG audiences too:

Oh my goodness! Here's Dusty Springfield (with the other Springfields), before she got all, you know, sultry:

This one has probably the worst ending ever, but I was inspired by the curly-haired girl in the orange row. She is so into it that she can't help but bop around -- and she clearly doesn't care that no one else is following her lead. That, to me, is the very definition of music:

But this next one is my favorite. I had never heard of Karl Denver before, even though he was apparently "the most famous folksinger in Europe" at the time:

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